It’s Always Time for a “Truly” Reformation
Based on John 8:31-36, today we learn that “It’s Always Time for a “Truly” Reformation.” We are truly disciples who are truly free. October 27, 2019.
By grace alone, the mystery of deepest love flowing from the heart of God like a most reliable rushing river not just when it rains, but always and from eternity. By Scripture alone, the simple single source of saving wisdom, that casts aside all other words and opinions and conquers them just so one word remains - Christ. By faith alone, that for sinners to get into a restored and completely whole relationship with God, God asks nothing of you, requires nothing of you. Instead, he sent his Son, the Son’s life and death, the Son’s obedience and sacrifice, the Son sets the sinner free forever - believe it is true as he says, dear friends!
Grace alone, Scripture alone, faith alone. They are all so serious! “Alone, alone, alone” - They lock down the final answer and refuse to budge, refuse to adapt or conform to modern thinking. You have to appreciate the bold, unchanging call God makes through this good news. You’ve got to love that about Lutheran history too, standing on the ground of the “solas” God has given us, as a sine qua non, the very skeletal structure of Scriptural strength that keeps us from merely being the mush of our own might.
You’ve got to love that about Jesus. Today he speaks to new believers listening to him and he faithfully delivers the call to maturity and true Christianity. He is discontent and totally unsatisfied unless faith is established in a relationship that is based on him and his work, saving freedom by saving grace, according to him and his Word, alone. It’s always time for this “truly” reformation as Jesus brings us face to face with what makes us truly disciples and truly free.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” To be mine, to fall under my possession, as subjects in my glorious kingdom, as students remaining at my feet - this sentence couldn’t be more significant and it’s all right here - if you hold to my teaching.
You really have to spend some time with this. Obviously, Jesus has a clear message he gives, a body of teaching, a mouthful of words for us to hear. Jesus gives himself and all his gifts to us in the good news as he says it and promises it. In Word and sacrament, it is a verbal ministry. Away with any notion of church as just intolerant hardliners, letter of the law - how does Jesus say it? - this is my teaching, the giving of myself through words that makes disciples by the Spirit of truth, truth that sets you free!
This is that substantial weight - that we have teaching that came from him to set us free - that weighs on you, just like Jesus here - and leaves you unsatisfied if people do not remain in it.
Do you know someone - cared deeply for someone - who died without these solas, without trust in the Truth that sets the soul free, someone who did not hold on to him through his words? Or perhaps they passed away leaving you in a cloud of uncertainty - I know they knew who Jesus was, but all that comfort they spoke about - “I’ve lived a good life, glad for family, thankful for blessings, but was there comfort in the Christ? “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” - it brings a sorrow, that unsettled feeling Jesus had - which is why he said this - that people wouldn’t stick to the surface but face their biggest idols and great sin and be truly possessed and owned by his words.
Reflect on the teaching that goes on in your family. So many things are taught, by example, by our behavior - do they undermine what you do together on a Sunday morning? Do we find ways to connect our faith’s refreshment in worship to its application each day? Do we apologize and forgive? Do we disciple according to him whose words are everlasting life or muddy it all up by focusing on earthly things, misplaced priorities and failing to reflect on the God of all mercy and every blessing? Martin Luther restored a huge family ministry of the teaching of Jesus with the catechisms as every parent should teach their children. If we enroll in Lutheran schools but in such a way as to wash our hands of responsibility at home to reaffirm and to teach and to talk, we risk saying something else by our actions and priorities. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” speaks volumes to the serious call it is to be a Christian parent, Christian friend, Christian family member that teaches his teaching that we might be discipled by Jesus and unsatisfied with anything else.
And then, after Jesus has laid out the sola of his teaching and the sola of truth that sets free, what response was given? “No, Jesus. We don’t need to be disciples of a teaching that sets us free. We’re true descendants. We’re already free. We are not slaves in the world per se, but God’s chosen people.” Yes, they knew the promises to Abraham by grace but they moved on into trusting they were God’s special people by bloodline, not by faith. Those are other words, not God’s Words, not Scripture alone, that had taken possession of their hearts. How was it that there existed this entire widespread culture of trust in your lineage rather than in the God who chose you by grace? You have to see the great and sinful power move at work that they would not hold to his teaching, but insist on their own false expertise, as if Jesus didn’t know they were descended from Abraham! So, they contradict his teaching, desperate to hold to their own narrative and insist they were better than their idolatrous ancestors, ‘doing the God-thing” with better, even perfect obedience, because that’s what true descendants of Abraham do.”
How was it that an entire culture of rebellion had spread like gangrene at the time of Reformation, not to put your trust solely in the obedience, the work, the suffering of Jesus hung on the cross in your place, but to pile on all sorts of extra opportunities to earn God’s special favor and find comfort in the work and struggle of your own two hands?
Because it’s always time for a “truly” reformation! Come, Holy Spirit! Make us yours truly! “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of everlasting life!” Let us not separate the real, true, living Christ, from our confession of faith, but see him taking ownership of our souls by his words of mercy, sacrifice for sins and promise of eternal life. There is no word like yours, dear Jesus! No teaching like yours that drowns sin and raises the dead. What other teaching brings us first to the word of baptism, to mark us as your redeemed children by the cross and to give us a new birth! Help us to hold to your teaching that we may be your truly disciples.
And listen to his insistence as truth-giver: “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
You most certainly are slaves to sin! And yet he offers no illustrations, no examples, no string of commandments or list of secret idols, just straight up honesty that demands the heart fess up to its enslavement to sin. Just one little word - sin - anyone with it is a slave, and we all know slaves have no claim to the permanency of a family. “Slave to sin” It’s the first great truth Jesus speaks, and yet it’s the last thing we ever want to be called or think of ourselves as. Get off your high “children of Abraham” horse, let every mouth be silent and the whole world held accountable to God. Now that’s terror!
And to that terrifying, enslaved, imprisoned and chained and dark and locked up and hell-bound silence, he speaks: “But, a son belongs to it forever.” A Son is the same yesterday, today and forever. And now we begin again to see the word Jesus has come to give. The great speech of salvation he came to say. You know that stale concept called truth, now stepping forward as the only one with a key to loose the chains, the minister of the forgiveness of sins - “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
I see this grand procession of the Keymaker. The One who breaks the chains, releases the bars, opens the gates to Paradise and let’s not just one or two of us in, but every last one - and unsatisfied to have it be any other way. I’ve come to set you free. I died to set you free. Now you be sure to consider your sinful self set free, not because you got better or deserved it, but because I’m the Son! Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! And so, in the midst of the visible weakness of his life and death for sinners, the lowliness of being a little Lamb slain is the powerful statement of a Key, a Son, who sets you free indeed!
On the authority of this Christ, in the name of the Son who took on flesh, died and rose, using his own testimony and teaching, I declare you free of your sins for his sake. Let the Pharisee and all self-righteous abandon every thought of their own teaching, set aside their reason and interpretation and hear the word of the Son today. Martin Luther could care less if I spoke two syllables about his life in the pulpit today, but you got to hear the Word of Christ that sets you free, then we’d have a powerful, reforming word of the Spirit among us, wouldn’t we! It’s always a good time for a truly reformation, truly disciples, hold to his teaching, Christian friends, the Son has set you free - let those be your solas forever. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on October 27, 2019